Music

My Brightest Diamond: A Thousand Shark's Teeth

Shara Worden and her group return with a new album of deeper, richly textured orchestral rock music full of drama -- oh, and there's her voice.


My Brightest Diamond

A Thousand Shark's Teeth

Label: Asthmatic Kitty
US Release Date: 2008-06-17
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

In August of 2006, Shara Worden and her band My Brightest Diamond released an album called Bring Me the Workhorse. It was an artful combination of indie rock and classical arrangement, tied together by Worden's distinctive and powerful voice. Bring Me the Workhorse was an impressive debut -- the sharp guitar-playing formed a strong backbone, and Worden's voice showed an easy mastery of the high drama her songs demanded. Though there was a strong element of Björk-worship, the songs held their own -- and still have power and presence today.

The new album, A Thousand Shark's Teeth, is different. Produced and arranged by Worden, and made up of songs written both before and after the earlier album, this material retains the muscular indie language of the debut, but is at the same time more complex and denser musically -- altogether more classical. If it's the influence of Worden's former composition teacher Padma Newsome, that's great. Newsome, the virtuoso behind Clogs, is himself making some of the most compelling new minimalist chamber-indie crossover pieces around. Now Worden can count herself with at least the same seriousness of purpose.

That's not to say My Brightest Diamond has turned into a classical project. Nor is it to be lumped with the hulking obviousness of a group like Tarantula A.D. Part of the difference is in Worden's much-celebrated voice, in as fine form here as you would expect. But the music itself is lither. It uses guitar to add an exclamation point in a song's coda, or to infuse a sense of menace to a floating piece like opener "Inside a Boy". But the guitars are treated more as one piece of a full orchestra of instruments on A Thousand Shark's Teeth, less like a traditional band-with-orchestral-flourishes.

Let's examine this a bit closer. "Like a Sieve", a pattering, attractive song, churns on complex machinery. The song reminds of one of those Vaughan Williams folk songs from the beginning of the 20th century, where he uses casual atonalities to undermine the pastoral simplicity of the lyrics. Worden undermines her own operatic delivery in a similar way. But she takes it a step further by doing away with the verse-refrain structure in favour of a more atmospheric, free-flowing form. Even more buried is the fact that the song's built off a sample by Tricky. There are many examples like this throughout the album.

"Bass Player" might be the highlight of the album. Coiled, syncopated bass lines fit unexpectedly; above them, Worden spins out an old-school, minor key romantic ballad reminiscent of Nick Cave. Thing is, the orchestration's more complex, all overlapping wind instruments and tinkling marimba, building inexorably with tremolo strings, breathing new life into her desperate plea: "Blow me a kiss before I drown".

Still, you get the feeling that My Brightest Diamond is on its way up, not yet at the peak of its musical expression. Worden still channels Björk, but occasionally also Regina Spektor, and the altered pronunciation feels at times a little put-on. In the moments where she dips back into familiar rock textures, Worden shares the crashing intensity of Jeff Buckley -- but it's not quite as compelling as the more original compositions. Songs like "The Ice & the Storm", with its complex harmonies and atonal haunting of sonic ghosts, and the drum machine-fuelled "Apples", with its complex interplay of pizzicato and duelling rhythmic/lyrical delivery, prove this.

It's nothing too much to complain about -- there's still plenty to appreciate about A Thousand Shark's Teeth. It's a swooning, big-gestured album to get lost in. Discovering new complexities and subtleties each time is an added bonus.

7

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image